Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Taking time off...

Well, we've reached the half-way mark of a year that will be looked back upon as "2003". (Unless something goes horribly wrong...) In those six months, I've had a staged reading for Atheists, finished writing Whatever Happened to Me, performed in a staged reading for Steve, and directed and acted in the staged reading for Whatever Happened to Me. Yep, I've been fine, plenty busy. Mind you, I took some time off in the midst of all that - you'll remember it as when I was trying to get Rosa back (I didn't say it wasn't a waste of time...) - but after directing and acting in my show, I decided it was time for another mini-vacation.

Sadly, my boss didn't think so - that means I'm still working. But like most Americans, I've been going home and resting on my ass for the past week or so.

It's been nice.

Sadly, though, I'm just not built for time off. I get too antsy. So, I've been contemplating the next step. I would like to do some real acting again. To this end, I've had new headshots taken. They look great... but they take more money to be printed. It doesn't look like that's going to happen until July 11. So much for that idea. Another idea is to write, which you may have noticed that I do... occasionally. Whatever Happened to Me and Atheists both need rewrites. I think I may start that next week. I'd also like to do a complete rewrite of my first play, Everything Changes. There's a good play in there... somewhere.

More on plays in a moment. First, a couple notes on how you waste a week...

Old Town

Saturday, I was climbing the walls. ... No, not literally.

I decided to spend the afternoon with Tim, down in San Diego. Picking him up from work, we decided to waste the afternoon away in Old Town. Old Town, San Diego.

Ever been? Old Town is a state park down there, the only shopping mall state park I know of. Literally, the place is one huge shopping mall. Oh, sure, their stores are quaint and homey but a shopping mall by any other name... you know.

Rosa and I had gone there back in '93 - yep, 10 years ago. We had a 24-hour test drive from Saturn and decided to test drive it down to San Diego. It was a beautiful day, but then every day with Rosa was.

I told Tim about this and he suggested that, perhaps, we shouldn't go. No, I said. I'd have to get used to being without Rosa one of these days. Right?

When Rosa and I had been there, it seemed so huge. Now, it was no bigger than a couple of blocks. How odd! We had a bite to eat. We went to a cemetery and made jokes about the dead. (Okay, mostly I did.) We sat and smoked and talked and talked. It was quite nice. Sure, the specter of Rosa hung over my head the entire time but it was one step away from her. Granted, it's a long way from Old Town to Seattle - both geographically and metaphorically.

The Matrix, too...

Last night, Keith and I saw the new Matrix movie. Matrix Retooled, er, Regrouted, er, Rebirthed, er, Retarded... the second one.

Now, I didn't think the first Matrix was as world-shaking as some people I know. I found it to be a nice distraction but that's about it. For all the talk you hear about how philosophical the Matrix was, you're talking to an ex-Philosophy major here. I've read my share of Nietzsche, Sartre, Plato, Kant, Descartes, Spinoza - blah, blah, blah. While I won't go so far as to call the Wachowski brothers plagiarists, they certainly borrowed everything they had to say from someone else. There was really nothing new to be had there.

Still, it was an entertaining diversion.

Well, Keith and I went in to see this one (care of free passes from City of Hope - give platelets, folks, you'll be glad you did!) on an IMAX screen. Yep, my first Imax experience was... not for something great... darnit. Still, Keith was pleased as punch, so that was cool.

For those of you who have not experienced Imax... it's big. The screen is the size of Shrub's arrogance. You have to climb a small mountain to get to your seat.

This movie was more of the same, of course. More wondering who ever thought Keanu could act. More hackneyed pop-philosophy. (I will say that if that's the only way you get to exercise your brain, you should have at least that much... and shame the hell on you!)

Finally, there were more, much more, special effects.

The whole movie was a special effect.

I began to wonder, halfway through the film, how long this could go on. How long can movie studios keep topping the previous movie. Special effects keep getting bigger. Budgets keep getting bigger. (This movie was made by enough people to repopulate a small planet.) For how long will people continue to be entertained by seemingly-linear entertainment, held only by the next explosion or fight? How long can this continue?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say not long. The time is coming when movies will change in a way we cannot imagine. I'd give it twenty years. When you see the new Matrix, you can see how it's pushing at the hinges of its linear track, straining to hold an ever-decreasing attention span. Very soon, people will no longer tolerate pre-fab stories and will demand their own linear track. Movies will die to the individual experience. What that experience will be cannot be dreamt by a writer of linear stories such as myself. They will be invented by computer coders and designers with names we cannot foresee. This isn't science fiction. It's happening already. Why do you think the video game market now makes more money than the movie and TV industries combined?

Just wait.


When I was a kid, I was never able to sit still. I would fidget this way and twitch that way. "Hyperactive" they called it. As I got older, I wouldn't fidget the same way but I would still have to shift this way and that. Smooth my hair. Tug on my sleeve. Rub my feet together.

I've noticed that I still do that. At 37 years old! I scratch my head, rub my eye, scratch my leg, crinkle my face, brush back my hair, pull my ear, scratch my chin - all in the span of a few minutes. This troubles me. I can see myself at 70; one of those old men mumbling to himself and twitching.

Old age scares me flat.

When is a play not a play?...

And, so, I've been thinking about plays. I don't have to think too hard; ideas come to me all the time. Here are a few hanging in the rafters of my mind like bothersome bats:

1) This They Call Freedom - a political farce I'd started over a year ago. While I'd love to write it, I think I missed that moment.
2) Blind Dates - a story about two people who are set up on a series of blind dates throughout their lives. Everyone thinks they'd be great for each other but they can't stand each other.
3) Emotional Cripples - a story of a group of people in their twenties, trying to come to terms with ruined marriages, lost hope, and reality in general
4) 24 Carrots - a murder mystery
5) Death Takes an Egg Salad on Rye - Death tries to understand Hope. With the help of a man about to lose his wife, Death encounters the personifications of abstract thoughts.

Those are just a few. Oh, sure, I'd like to write them. But writing a play is about more than just putting the words down.

First, the timing has to be just right... or just write. I started This They Call Freedom very powerfully but got called away from it and have never been able to recapture the same kind of energy I had when I started. It's like losing the mood in sex. You're going at it and suddenly your mom calls... so much for sex. I don't know about you but that's a mood killer for me.

Second, it's important to keep in mind what you're doing. The theatrical experience is about a relationship, a relationship between the performer and the audience. You don't get that from TV or movies. You don't go to a theatre just to be entertained. Let's face it - if you wanted that, you could get it much better from a movie... or a prostitute. Anyway, theater has to offer much more than just entertainment. It HAS to talk to you.

Next, you need to keep in mind where you're doing it. Theater is limited by three dimensions. Unlike film, you can't jump from here to here to here. You are in a specific place - you're not going anywhere. A play like Emotional Cripples would probably work better as a movie. In fact, the more I write plays and the more plays I write, the more I feel like writing movies! (Son of a bitch.)

Lastly, there are so many little things the individual writer has to consider. Does the subject matter match the writer? Can you write that like NO ONE else? Is it worth your time? Should you waste your time with fluff or would it be better spend writing something "important".

I like to break rules in my plays. In Everything Changes, I played with time. I had characters hearing their own voices from the past on stage, which I did through voice-overs. In Atheists, I played with space. Action shifted from one area to another through flash-backs and interludes. In Whatever Happened to Me, I played with time again. This time, I wanted the same character physically on stage talking to himself. All of these things can be done far more easily in film but, I think since you don't expect it in theatre, it makes the theatrical experience that much more entertaining. And, so, I wonder what will my next play hold? What toys, now that I've played with time and space, can I play with now?

So many things.

So, I don't just start a play. I wait until it makes itself appealing, until it grabs me and won't let go. After all, if it doesn't do that to me, how can I expect it to happen to the audience?

Considering that the wall-climbing has already begun, though, I don't know how much longer I'll be able to hold out before relaxing just ain't enough.

... and there's something horribly wrong with that!

One constant, though, is that whatever I do start will be something I won't see coming.

Until then, I'm getting my copy of GTA 3: Vice City. Time to relax.

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